Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Vera (Von Arnim)

A colleague was kind enough to lend me Vera, having read about my discovery of Von Arnim this year - she is also a fan, and purchased this book in part because the title character shares a name with another of our colleagues.

I was hugely excited given other reading themes at the moment to discover that the book opens in Cornwall; the setting of Cornwall is not especially well evoked but it got the book off to a good start. We meet Lucy, whose father has just died at the beginning of their holiday. A young lady, she is bereft and doesn't know what to do with herself. Walking in the countryside, she encounters Wemyss, a man who turns out also to have been recently bereaved, his wife having died a mere fortnight ago. They establish a friendship, supporting each other and quickly fall in love despite the age difference (he is forty five) and despite the disapproval of Lucy's Aunt who turns up to take care of Lucy.

At the risk of introducing a huge spoiler - and please look away - the pair get engaged and then married, and the book takes on elements of "former wife" intrigue - there are many similarities with Jane Eyre (And the first Mrs Rochester) and Rebecca (the first Mrs De Winter) in it. Vera, Wemyss's former wife who died under mysterious circumstances (which turns out to have been a suicide) haunts the rest of the book and the relationship between the two. It's very difficult watching the young Lucy be engulfed by the atmosphere in his house where Vera once lived. I'd like to tell you more but I really don't want to give anymore of it away, it is an intensely gripping story and although creepy, certainly one of the best Von Arnims and VMCs that I have read thus far. It is worth reading the introduction after the book (it is full of spoilers) because the book strongly parallels aspects of Von Arnim's own life, and it's possible that the novel evolves out of what Von Arnim thought might have happened to her if she had not acted differently.

It's been published four times. and unusually (I haven't come across this before) has two difference cover designs for the original green version. I have the first. 5*


  1. I'm quite astonished to discover that I don't have this. I remember the cover (the second one) making such a strong impression on me, that I would have sworn I owned it. I think I probably have a different edition shelved elsewhere.

  2. How unusual about the two original cover designs! Bizarre. I hadn't seen the first one before.

    This sounds intriguing and I have to read it now that you have described it as the best Von Arnim and VMC you have read so far.

    I think the next Von Arnim I'll be reading will be Elizabeth and her German Garden.

  3. Web - it's definitely worth reading! Hope you find it.

    Claire - it is such a good story! I have just read Elizabeth, and review is forthcoming...

  4. Ooh, I just finished reading this (I own the top edition) and thought it was wonderful. A bit disturbing, but wonderful nonetheless.

  5. I loved Vera, but found it hugely disturbing - really a horrer story, I don't think I've ever read a better explination of an abusive relationship. Excellent review Verity, this really is a book that needs more exposure.

  6. hjelliot - what a coincidence - it was wonderful AND disturbing - I think that's what made it so good.

    Hayley - absolutely, it's a shame that it's not more widely known. I think the most recent edition may be OP too.

  7. Oh, I have read it, which is why the cover struck me so much. A brilliant choice! But it was a library copy and I guess I never did get my own.